It seems that the Marvel Cinematic Universe can do no wrong. Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, The Avengers–all huge hits. Now they’ve even gone and taken a minor Marvel property and turned into another tentpole. Marvel has more tentpoles than a campground.
Guardians of the Galaxy, which was hardly a blip on the Marvel publishing schedule, is the latest monster hit from the comic book company. It is a slightly different approach than the other films, in that it is a space opera in the mold of Star Wars rather than a superhero film, but fundamentally it’s the same template–wisecracks, action sequence, sentimental moment, wisecracks, repeat, repeat, repeat.
The film chronicles a gang of misfits that get together and save the universe. Peter Quill, who calls himself Starlord, is a scavenger hired to find an orb. That orb is also being sought by a major baddie–Ronin, who wears a hoodie and has some interesting black paint on his face. He is working for Thanos, who Marvel watchers may remember was seen in the post-credit sequence of The Avengers. Ronin sends one of Thanos’ adopted daughters, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), who looks like the Jolly Green Giant’s daughter, to fetch the orb, but Gamora has betrayal on her mind.
Meanwhile, Rocket, a bounty hunter who happens to be a genetically modified raccoon, is after the bounty on Quill. Rocket’s partner is a humanoid tree, Groot, who is his muscle, though can be kind of sweet at times, and knows only three words–“I am Groot.” Later this group is joined by the muscle-bound Drax (Dave Bautista), whose family was killed by Ronin.
The similarities to Star Wars are many. Quill and Rocket both have Han Solo qualities (with Groot as the Chewbacca character). The Kree, Ronin’s race, are something like the Sith, with Thanos as the Emperor. But Guardians of the Galaxy is also buried in the Marvel tradition of wisecracks and use of popular culture. The story is contemporary, and Quill carries around a cassette tape of ’70s hits, mostly one-hit wonders like “Come and Get Your Love” and “Hooked on a Feeling.” That’s the kind of wit the film has. Sometimes it’s very funny, and the film succeeds as a comedy.
It does not succeed as an action picture. The script, by director James Gunn and Nicole Perlman, has plenty of laughs, but the plot is warmed over boilerplate sci-fi. I mean, an orb that can destroy the universe? How subtle. And the planet that is threatened looks like Disneyworld (of course the Kree are dark and scary). The action sequences–a prison break, a chase through the Disneyworld planet, the final confrontation–are all pretty routine.
A few sequences show some originality, such as a mining world inside the severed head of a celestial body, with Benicio Del Toro as “The Collector.” I also liked the character played by Michael Rooker, Quill’s mentor, who has a trained arrow. But mostly the film gets by on its jokes. Quill, played effortlessly by Chris Pratt, is great company, a guy who fancies himself a space outlaw (when someone does call him “Starlord” he happily sighs, “Finally!”) and Rocket, voiced by Bradley Cooper, provide most of the good lines.
The movie is stolen, though, by Groot, who is briefly voiced by Vin Diesel, perhaps the world’s least likely voice actor. Groot, as was Chewbacca, is an archetype–the sidekick, the kind of friend that every kid wants, usually to ward off bullies. Groot has a sweet nature, but can seriously kick ass, too. And I believe that if any line is remembered from any film this year by future generations, it will be “I am Groot.”
This film is getting raves as if it were the second coming of Star Wars, but it’s not quite that good. I didn’t like it as much as The Avengers, Iron Man 3, or Captain America 2. But I welcome more films, perhaps with more original plots. And the inevitable team-up of this group with The Avengers ought to make the biggest salary payments in the history of films (because by then, Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, etc. will be commanding major paydays).
My grade for Guardians of the Galaxy: B.